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What is a Behavioral Interview?

How well do you think you handled difficult work situations in the past? Do you think you would be able to give concrete examples of how you handled those situations and others? If so, then you will likely be ready for a behavioral interview. If not, then you need to recap your past and start preparing answers for the kinds of questions that are asked in a behavioral interview. You may have heard of it before, or perhaps you haven’t, but employers have behavioral interviews when they know what kinds of skills they want in their employee and ask questions about your past situations to see if you possess those skills.

If you’re anything like me, the idea of taking part in a behavior interview makes you very nervous. Not that I am nervous that I didn’t handle myself the right way in past positions, but the idea of someone interviewing and testing me on my behavior is a bit nerve-wracking. However, employers do give them and if that’s the case you need to be prepared for them. Employers utilize these behavioral interviews based on the idea that the way you acted in the past is how you will be expected to act in the future. The interviewer isn’t looking for the fact that you can do something, but that you have actually done it already in the past. For these kinds of interviews, you will have to give real-life examples of how you handled specific situations in the past. You can look to your past work experiences, volunteer work, course work, hobbies, family life or anything that will help you fully answer the questions the interviewer is asking.

Behavioral interviews are looked as a bit more intensive and difficult because they force you to really think about and assess your skills. Rather than simply answering questions on the surface level such as “what are your biggest strengths” or “why did you leave your last job,” behavioral interviews delve deeper and force you to reveal aspects of your personality and your work ethic. It may be easy to fake or gloss over issue in a traditional interview, but not so much in a behavioral interview. The interviewers in this case know what they want out of their future employee and are probing you to see if you have it.

So if you don’t know what kind of questions they are going to ask, how can you prepare for this kind of interview? Unlike a traditional interview, the questions for a behavioral interview aren’t as concrete. It may be easy to prepare answers for the kinds of questions asked in a traditional interview, but you need to look deeper into your past work experiences to fully answer behavioral interview questions. For instance, it’s very easy to think about what your greatest strengths and weaknesses are. It’s not quite as easy to quickly come up with an answer to how you used logic to solve a problem. That’s the kind of question you’ll face in a behavioral interview. Another question you may face is, “Tell me about a time when you were forced to use your presentation skills to influence someone’s opinion.” If I was asked this right off the bat in an interview, without preparation, I would likely stumble a bit. That is why it’s a great idea to take some time before your interview to reflect back on your past work experiences.

Reflect on difficult situations you had to handle on your own and how you handled them. The best way to answer behavioral interview questions is to identify a problem you faced, explain the action you took and describe the result is created. It’s best to cover all of these bases and answer the question in a mini-story. The problem is the beginning, the action you took is the middle and the result is clearly the end. That way you are answering the question clearly and concisely with concrete evidence to back it up. An answer that doesn’t have these three components in it won’t be a full answer.

You can better anticipate what kinds of questions they are going to ask and what kinds of answers they are seeking if you fully understand the position they are trying to fill. In the job description, what kind of skills did they list that are required or desired for the position? When reflecting on your past work experiences, keep these skills in mind and think of examples of how you demonstrated them in the past. If find yourself to be a good communicator and team player and that is a skill that is needed, then make sure you have full examples of how you demonstrated that in the past.

It’s also best to know what your strongest skills are. How do they relate to this position and how did you demonstrate those skills in the past? Think of stories you can tell to clearly demonstrate how you utilized those skills. That way, when you are asked these kinds of questions you aren’t sitting there staring off into space trying to come up with some kind of answer. You should also remember that employers and interviews love numbers. They want to see how productive you were in the past and the best way to do that is to quantify your past results. If you increased a company’s website visibility by 25 percent, then make sure you state that in the interview.

Like any kind of interview, research and preparation will take you very far in a behavioral interview. You may not be able to devise answers to all of the questions they will ask, as you likely can for a traditional interview, but you can be ready. Reflect on your past work experiences and be ready to discuss them with the interviewer. It is more intense than a traditional interview, but with the right preparation you can get through it and nail the interview.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Best Job Interview

Nicole Nicholson

Nicole is the Content Editor for Spark Hire and mainly writes for and edits the work for the Spark News blog. She graduated in 2010 with a BA in Journalism from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. She has a passion for writing, editing, and pretty much anything to do with content. In her free time she frequents the Chicago music scene and writes reviews on shows for her own personal blog. Connect with Nicole and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter

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